Eight Songs for a Mad King

Peter Maxwell Davies’ iconic 1968 piece of music theatre “Eight Songs for a Mad King” addresses the relationship between madness and power. The work centres around the psychic disintegration of the British monarch George III and the simultaneous moral disintegration of colonial power. Elaine Mitchener’s staging and interpretation of “Eight Songs for a Mad King” can also be read as a meta-narrative about the culture industry and its perpetuation of postcolonial violence; in particular, in relation to the absence of non-white female bodies and voices and their non-representation within a European canon of classical and contemporary music.

Curator and performance – Elaine Mitchener
Musical director – Sarah Saviet
Choreography and lighting – Dam Van Huynh
MAM.manufaktur für aktuelle musik:
Violin – Sarah Saviet
Clarinet – Michiko Ogawa
Piano – Joseph Houston
Flute – Rebecca Lenton
Cello – Marie Schmit
Drums – Rie Miyama Watanabe

Joy Boy by Julius Eastman
Owner‘s Manual by Elaine Mitchener
Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies

Presented at Radialsystem – Berlin on 27th November 2023
The concert version of Eight Songs for a Mad King was originally premiered on Friday 26 May, 2023 at London’s Wigmore Hall

Reviews and interviews

“Eight Songs remains an intensely visceral piece with the capacity to shock. More than that, though, it prompts reflection on the treatment of mental health and the fraught legacies of empire, issues which are still very much with us.” David Grundy, The Wire

“Mitchener inhabited King George’s fracturing identities with an unsettling intensity.” Philip Clark, Prospect Magazine

“With one degree of separation, ‘Eight Songs’ records the sound of the injured and dying from a war between colonial powers. Mitchener’s version shows another vector of that violence: the foundational barbarity wreaked by empire on a different set of bodies.” Benjamin Poore, VAN Magazine

“Mitchener’s performance was quite simply extraordinary. She held nothing back in her traversal of the enormous vocal range of the work, and her total inhabiting of the character was the enduring memory of the evening.” Caroline Potter, Tempo

“Me being onstage as a Black experimental contemporary music vocalist,” Mitchener said, “is in itself a political act.” Hugh Morris, The New York Times

Photo credit:
Phil Dera